Thursday 29 September 2022

 Nostalgia and Memories around  a Jowett Bradford Van

This is a dual purpose post, someone on the car group asked for any stories of Jowetts, and I decided to expand the idea a bit - but it's all true, I promise. Just edited because I have actually found some photos. I don't know who took them. I'm sure the cat was helpful.

My grandfather spent WWII as an engine driver based at Stratford, so he Granny and their daughter lived in the area during the blitz. Their daughter met and married my father, and the end of the war found the whole family living in a largish terraced house near Stratford. My parents had the downstairs and my grandparents lived upstairs, quite a luxurious amount of space for the post war housing shortage in the area. It's probably 4 or more flats nowadays.

Soon after the war I came along, followed by my younger sibling. While space became an issue my grandfather retired, close family friends emigrated to Canada under the £10 scheme, my father got a job outside London and so moving house became a possibility. The chosen area was Colchester, between the grandparent's family and my parent's friends in and around East London.

I was about 6 so wasn't consulted, but one day my father arrived home with a rather battered and scruffy grey Jowett Bradford, this was to be the transport to go house hunting! The van had a rear seat and side windows, described by Jowett as a Utility Van - she got the nickname Tilly.

Wow! Money was scarce and material goods were expensive, we had no phone or TV, but we had a car! There was only one other car in the whole street. Admittedly that was a pristine brand new Jaguar roadster which I walked past with almost religious reverence and awe on my way to infant school but now we had a car too! Even though it was rather a jaded, folorn and less sleek design than my childish dreams might have wished.

In those days there was none of this needing a licenced driver or lessons while you learned. My father got a provisional licence and a pair of L plates then spent every spare moment driving round the local streets practicing 3 point turns, reversing round corners, changing gear (no synchro on it) etc. I was often allowed to go with him, perched and bouncing around on the front passenger seat. Health and safety would have a fit nowadays with a new driver driving round London with a unrestrained 6 year old in the front seat, but I was mesmerised by the exitement and that was back then. You have to go somewhere like Alton Towers to get that feeling nowadays. Dad passed his test, threw away the L plates and we were set.

The next summer became house hunting season. Back then estate agents published a list of houses for sale which was snail-mail posted out to prospective purchasers, then, each week my parents would check the options and every Saturday was looking at houses day.  It was a bit like a military operation as the estate agents all closed at midday, so viewing arrangements, or borrowing keys for empty houses (people were trusted then), had to be done before noon at the Colchester offices.

My mother made up picnics and drinks then early in the morning the whole family assembled outside and climbed abord the Bradford for the trip. Dad driving, Granny in the front with her favourite bonnet, Mother, Grandfather and me on the back seat and my newly arrived sibling in a carrycot on the floor. Even in my memory it makes me think of the Carl Giles cartoon family that was syndicated in the press.

The A12 had few by-passes back then, and the Bradford struggled to reach 40mph, so the trip, as we chugged along through Brentwood, Chelmsford, Hatfield Peverill, Witham, Kelvedon and Mark's Tey took well over 2 hours on a good day, then there was the race around Colchester town to visit all the estate agents of interest before the noon deadline and the afternoon's sight visits could start. My memory of that summer is of the A12, being lost in rural Essex and sitting in empty houses with sandwiches and orange juice. But we succeeded, a small house for my grandparents near some shops in Colchester and a family house in a village just outside the town, which became home for my next 12 years.

The old Bradford had done sterling service chugging steadily east and west along the A12 and all around North East Essex week after week with just one breakdown to its name. That was on the Colchester one way system at some traffic lights, (the St John's St/Head Street junction for any locals). The van refused to pull away but instead made a loud thump and rolled slowly backwards, being brought to a halt by the front bumper of a police car waiting behind us. Oops! Fortunately cars were solid then and the police car was undamaged, they were very considerate as we all exited from the vehicle and en masse pushed it round the corner out of the way. Tilly was left to the tender mercies of a local garage and we had a very late night getting home on the train. It turned out that a half shaft had snapped.

For the next year or two Tilly was the family transport, taking my father to work in the week and making regular trips to the grandparents on Sundays, sometimes a drive out to Suffolk and Constable country for a picnic. Tilly again was trouble free except for one occasion on the drive when a petrol leak caused a - fortunately small - fire under the bonnet.

The MOT was introduced in 1960 and the local garage warned it would fail, various bits needed attention including a badly rotted wooden floor. Not many cars fail for wood rot in the floor nowadays. As a result that summer holiday became the car rebuild year. My father bought a second Bradford, I suspect a later one with the more powerful engine, and proceeded to dismantle both on the front lawn. Mother, who tended to care what the neighbours would think, was less than amused! Then he built one good one from the two. I can remember Dad assembling a 'work gang' of  me, and assorted neighbours to lift off the rear bodies so that the floorboards could be removed and the best chassis painted, then replacement of the floor with new tongue and groove floorboards before a reassembled work gang lifted the best body back. My grandfather, who was interested in clocks, sat for hours with bits of rear axle and differential rebuilding the axle assembly. The final touch was managed by bribery of the sprayer at the local garage for a smart paint job. Dark blue below the waistline, light blue above and - if I remember correctly - black wings.

 The unused unwanted parts were disposed of by using a trench, conveniently dug through the garden as part of water board improvements to replace all the septic tanks in the road with mains sewerage. I wonder if the people living in the house now realise that under the path round their house is most of a Jowett Bradford?

A year or so on the Bradford was sold - I think to a local dairyman who already used Bradfords - and replaced by a fancy second hand Hillman Minx estate which distinguised itself very soon by breaking down comprehensively on a sodden wet day half way up the hill to Dover Castle just as we arrived there on holiday. It was swapped for a 1960 Morris Traveller, which I inherited and still own, now rebuilt.


  1. “ Not many cars fail for wood rot in the floor nowadays.”. Not even the Morgan.

  2. Built in my home city, hence the model name, the local roads were full of them in the 1950s. Quite a few were allegedly built 'one piece at a time' using parts 'liberated' from the factory. A sturdy workhorse.

  3. Yes, I once went to the factory in Bradford. There was a particular spare part that for some reason couldn't be obtained anywhere locally, so while visiting relatives near Doncaster my father decided to call in at the factory to see if they had one. He did things like that! I have no idea if he got it, I was too young to be mechanically car savvy, but they probably found one to get rid of him. I remember going there with him though.